Professor of History
A recent message I received from Drew McKevitt, Strategic Visions’ editor, brought home the sort of out of body experience I’ve had since my arrival in London. Email can cause that. When writing to ask for my contribution to this issue, Drew filled in the subject line with, “Notes from the Absentee Director.” He was accurate, of course. I’ve spent most of my time since January writing my book, delivering lectures, and taking full advantage of all the riches London can offer (not that I can afford them). I’ve done some traveling, too—strictly for pleasure, I’ll add unapologetically.
Yet while technically an absentee director, virtually I’ve not gone anywhere. Hardly a day has gone by when I’ve not corresponded through cyberspace with at least one CENFAD faculty, student, or member. I’ve supervised dissertations, including the defense or imminent defenses of two of CENFAD’s former graduate student coordinators, David Rezelman and Bob Wintermute (relax—I conduct defenses by phone). I’ve managed the selection of the three 2006 CENFAD Research Fellows. Congratulations to Hieu Ho (the Marvin Wachman Fellow for his dissertation, Village Histories: Revolution, American Social Engineering, and War in Rural Central Vietnam); Richard Grippaldi (the John Votaw Fellow for Birth of the U.S. Cavalry: The Regiment of Dragoons, Military Professionalism, and Peacekeeping on the Permanent Indian Frontier, 1833-1836); and Britton McDonald (the Jeffrey Bower Fellow for Dedication Despite Neglect: The Canadian Militia in the Interwar Years, 1919-1939). I helped to decide the recipient of the inaugural Edwin H. Sherman Family Prize for the outstanding undergraduate paper in force and diplomacy. It went to Betsy Beasley of the University of Georgia for her Damsels in Distress, Frustrated Old Women, and the Masculine Enterprise: Gendered Constructs in U.S. Relations with Vietnam, 1963-1968. And, as all of you who are on our list know so very, very well, I’ve sent out announcement after announcement of the galaxy of stimulating and diverse speakers who have filled the Russell Weigley Room by presenting their research at CENFAD Colloquia or the International History Workshop.
I could only enjoy these colloquia, workshops, and related programs vicariously—through their titles, my familiarity with the presenters, and the flood of reports I received. But I enjoyed them, believe me. They underscored what CENFAD is all about: the creation and dissemination of knowledge about force and diplomacy. Toward this end, we encourage and promote scholarship that is innovative and imaginative, that provokes, that challenges and expands how we think about both history and contemporary affairs. Whether living in Philadelphia or London, I am proud of what CENFAD is and what it does.
In a strange way I think my absentee, or as I prefer my virtual directorship of CENFAD over these past months bolstered that pride. I gained perspective through my personal version on the “Special Relationship.” Also bolstering that pride, however, was a darker dimension of my out of body experience. Those of you who read the Philadelphia papers are aware that several months ago, along with another CENFAD principal, Temple University, and the university’s president, I found myself a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a graduate student in the History Department. The plaintiff, who serves in the Pennsylvania National Guard, alleged that collectively we “engaged in a campaign of retaliation and retribution” for the purpose of “thwart[ing] his ability to complete his graduate degree.” The lawsuit contends that our motive was our intolerance for political beliefs dissimilar to our own. The incriminating evidence, wrote the lead attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the defendant, in an op-ed piece published in the Philadelphia Daily News, is the defendant’s receipt of “several invitations to sit-ins and other anti-war activities. These e-mails were written by a professor using publicly funded resources to advance his own personal political agenda.” The suit identifies that professor as me. As further evidence, the attorney claims that a reader of the defendant’s M.A. thesis “flunked” it because his “political beliefs are opposed.” The suit identifies that reader as my CENFAD colleague.
My purpose now is not to defend myself, my colleague, or the university. I have replied to the many press queries I have received concerning this suit by responding simply that I stand by my record. That record is in large part CENFAD’s record. Announcing colloquia, reading dissertations, selecting recipients of awards, and more this semester, while living an ocean apart, has made me that much prouder of that record. CENFAD attests not only to the bankruptcy of the lawsuit, but also of organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund and legislation like HR 177, the bill passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representative to examine the need for a so-called Academic Bill of Rights. Their political agenda violates everything that CENFAD represents. Over the past years I have written in this space that the contemporary international environment adds value and urgency to CENFAD’s mission. My out of body experience this spring is a sure sign that the same is true for the contemporary domestic environment. This is a troubled and troubling time.